Notes on

Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day

by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

The Four Steps of Make Time

  1. Highlight
    1. Choose a single focus for a day - a daily highlight.
  2. Laser
    1. Employ tactics that make you focus better.
  3. Energize
    1. Through exercise, food, sleep, quiet, and face-to-face time.
  4. Reflect
    1. Before you go to bed, reflect on your day. What might you improve?
    2. What were your energy levels? Did you make time for your highlight? What brought joy in your day?
    3. This process allows you improve your system.

I think the very core principle is that it's not about optimizing everything, getting things done faster or more effectively; it's about prioritizing and doing the right things.

The authors introduce two concepts; Infinity Pools, which are the seemingly infinite streams of content and the Busy Bandwagon, which is our culture of constant busyness.

They claim that the Busy Bandwagon, and the Infinity Pools have become our defaults.

Core takeaways

  • Be proactive in what you spend your time on. Break out of reactivity-mode; don't just to react to other people's priorities (messages, notifications, emails, etc.).
  • Remove your smartphone to be more productive
  • Do not aim to do more every day, aim to make time for what matters
  • When you check your email, you are asking if any random person needs your time
  • Improve the process through experimentation - the scientific method
  • Have one daily focus - the goal you set out to achieve that day
  • Using a to-do list may not be a good way to increase productivity because it is much too easy to put off doing the hard but important tasks. Instead, we may find ourselves getting lots of unimportance things done.


Start each day by thinking of the highlight.

The highlight won't be the only thing you do in a day. But you get to be proactive. You make a choice to prioritize something.

How do you choose your highlight?

The authors present three criteria to choose it with. Urgency, satisfaction, and joy.

You ask yourself, “What do I want to be the highlight of my day?

Rule of thumb is to make your highlight take 60-90 minutes. You need time to get in the zone, but after 90 minutes you probably need a break.

You can always change your highlight. Or choose it, if you haven't. You don't HAVE to choose it as the first thing you do in a day.

They give a few tactics that you could employ to make choosing a highlight easier.

  • You could write it down (calendar, notebook).

  • You could choose to repeat your highlight. For a second chance, or to build momentum, or for practice / creating a habit, or to just enjoy it again.

  • You could make a high level list of the most important things in your life. Then rank them and go for number one.

  • You could batch smaller tasks and do them in one highlight session. But don't do it every day.

  • The authors don't really like to-do lists, so they've come up with alternatives they like.

    • Have a might do list. Select your highlight from that and schedule it.
    • The burner list: make a line down a piece of paper in the middle. In the top left, write your most important project. In the top right, write your second most important project. Bottom left is extra space for the most important project, and bottom right is misc tasks.
  • You could also run a personal sprint. Do this by choosing the same highlight multiple times in a row, perhaps breaking it down into steps for each day. Sprints in normal work is used to keep tasks front and center in your mind (because you're working towards one thing), and because you dig deep on that one thing,

How to make time for your highlight

  • You could put your highlight in a calendar. This also helps you prioritize. It gives a great overview, and it shows the trade-offs you're making with your time.

  • You can put a block of time in your calendar to make time for what's important to you. But:

    • Make sure you do something meaningful and important (to you) during this time - don't just use it to avoid coworkers.
    • Don't block off all your time; this may prevent opportunities to come your way. And your coworkers will appreciate the availability.
    • Take it seriously. If you made time, keep it. If anyone tried to interfere, tell them you have plans.
    • This section was very influenced by one of the authors having a shared calendar at work, but the concepts transfer.
  • Bulldoze Your Calendar. This means to move things around in your calendar, clean it, shave time off, and so on until you have a desired amount of uninterrupted time for your highlight.

  • A good way to have more time is to say no to what you don't want to attend.

  • Time blocking; planning out your whole day.


This section is about increasing your focus.

How to make your phone less distracting

  • Removing all apps that might distract you. So all social media, etc. only keep the absolute essentials. Also remove web browsers, and email.
  • When you're done with a site, log out. This introduces friction and will make you less motivated to go there again.
  • Turn off (almost) all notifications.
  • Clear Your home screen. This may be more peaceful. More importantly, it will introduce a slight barrier, meaning that you need to do a bit more to get distracted. So when you open your phone, you'll have more time to ask yourself if what you're doing is what you should be doing.
  • Wear a Wristwatch. Wear a watch, so you don't have to check your phone to see the time.
  • Leave devices behind. Leave your device behind and just be offline.

How to stay out of Infinity Pools

This next section is about how we may avoid the infinite streams of content.

  • Don't check your phone first thing in the morning.
  • Block the sites on which you spend too much time (that you regret spending time on).
  • Ignore the news.
  • Remove that which may distract you.
  • Fly Without Wi-Fi. Can be abstracted to “be offline to be more productive” because there are many distractions online.
  • Turn off the internet sometimes.
  • Cancel your internet plan — but you can still use phone as hotspot or do work someplace that isn't home.
  • What you view as tiny things can end up costing a lot of time; more than you think. There's also the cost of context switching.
  • Do the important tasks first. It's easy to get caught up in doing trivial stuff thinking you're doing something meaningful with your time.
  • Not all apps or sites are pure noise and can be reframed to provide signal. How could you maximize signal from X?


You need energy to do good work.

  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Eat healthy food.
  • Go for walks.
  • Have shorter workdays.

Liked this post? Join the newsletter.